Atiwa is the game I was looking forward to the most in 2022. A medium-weight game by Uwe Rosenberg - my favourite designer. A farming game, but set in modern times and incorporating environmental themes. And most of all: bat meeples! 🦇 Believe me, I could hardly wait for its release on Essen Spiel and I bought it as soon as it was available in shops. It never made it to the shelves, I started playing immediately. And, well, poop.
2022 is finally coming to an end and, during these End Times, Athena and JW will share some thoughts on what they played this year.
In the game you build your village in Ghana, attracting families, planting fruit trees, herding goats, eating wild animals, the usual. But then there are two twists. One: the poor families go mining for gold, polluting the land for an uncertain income. You can however educate them, and from then on they'll have normal paying jobs, a certain income and there will be no further pollution. Some of the knowledge you share is specifically about fruit bats. Poor families may chase them away as those animals eat some of the fruit. And when hungry, the poor may even eat them. If however you manage to live in harmony with a colony of bats, they'll just take a small part of your fruit, and then (by excreting seeds) reforest the lands and even help improve harvest in the long run. Good to know.
There are seven rounds in the game. Each round there will be a small change in available actions. During your turn you'll take three of these actions, for example attracting a new family, buying goats, catching wild animals, acquiring new land. After each turn - if you've lured enough bats - you can let the bats do their thing: you'll lose some fruit, but you'll gain some trees. Trees that may carry fruit later, or that will be chopped down for housing. Then there's a phase where your families get income, followed by an ingenious production system (if you've got enough wild animals, you'll get more trees, as they spread seeds as well - if you've got enough trees, they'll carry fruit - if you've got enough fruit it will attract bats - and as you do the production in this order, one thing may lead to another). Then you'll have to feed your families - if you've invested in goats, you'll have some milk and cheese, but never enough, and if you also don't have enough wild animals running around, you will probably eat some fruit, or buy food with your gold. Finally: reproduction. Each round will have different rewards, sometimes you'll get an extra goat, another time a new family etc. Then a new round starts, you pick workers in another colour (leaving the previous ones on the board, blocking used spaces for two rounds) and off you go.
Everything you do feels thematic, the puzzle to make the most of the production and the reproduction phases is good, the mechanism of blocking your future self (the Uwe Way of Solo Gaming) is well done once again. I really wish I loved this game. But I can't recommend it for solo.
There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the goal is way too hard. At the end of the game, you get victory points for leftover gold, bats, the value of your land, the value of your village (people, animals, trees and fruit) and the number of educated families. To win the solo game you need 130 points, which only seems possible by maximizing most of these elements, which can lead to a preferred and set course of actions during the game. I couldn't find anyone on BoardGameGeek yet that has managed to score over 130 often (or even once). My high score after 15 plays is 105 points. I am sure there are ways to improve this, but now we get to problem number two.
There's a big stack of land tiles, that are all different (and some are really funny, like a haunted house). Some are good for planting trees, others for keeping bats, others may focus on food for your families. In a multiplayer game you'll see almost all tiles and you will try to buy one that fits your strategy. In the solo game they don't get refreshed at the end of the round like in multiplayer. You'll only put a new one on the market after you've bought one. But the action space to buy that piece of land will be blocked for two rounds. Which is long in a seven-rounds game. So, you won't see many different tiles, you will have to use whatever's available - which may seriously hamper your chances of a high score.
I may try the special solo challenges from the rule book, as I appreciate the time they put into this. They look at least as hard as winning the normal game though 😬
I may also lower my personal solo goal to 110 points. But I'm not so sure I want to keep playing it. Atiwa is not as bad as Reykholt solo, but it certainly isn't as much fun as At the Gates of Loyang, Nusfjord, Hallertau, A Feast for Odin, Glass Road - or the "sandbox" games Fields of Arle and Caverna. I may even enjoy my solo plays of some of Rosenberg's tile laying games more. Bummer. Everything about this game sounds good fun until you play it.
I still really want to like it. 😢